One of the richest yet understudied areas of media cultural production, engagement, and consumption is the world of fan fiction. Anne Jamison’s new book, Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World, is a much-needed introduction to this topic for the nonexpert and a valuable summary of its history and social significance for those both inside and outside of this community. Although the worldwide success of Fifty Shades of Grey, a book famously adapted from fan fiction based on the Twilight novels, drew more attention to the topic, it is still unfamiliar territory for many in academia, even for those in cinema and media studies.1 Jamison, a professor of English at the University of Utah, has been an active voice in fan fiction studies for a number of years and is often quoted as an authority in mainstream media publications. Fic broadens, synthesizes, and updates the scholarly work on fan fiction initiated by Henry Jenkins’s landmark Textual Poachers.2
As Jamison defines it, fan fiction (or “fic”) is “writing that continues, interrupts, or just riffs on stories and characters other people have already written about.”3 As a form of grassroots cultural production, fan fiction offers new ways to view canonical texts that are freely shared within communities. Most fan fiction engages with mass-media texts, such as the Harry Potter books and films (Warner Bros., 2001–2011) or the television program Supernatural (CW, 2005– ).4 Stories are often (but not always) published on a chapter-by-chapter basis, like serial narratives in nineteenth-century magazines, and they can involve [End Page 170] similar kinds of opportunities for readers to participate in the ongoing development of the narrative. Fan fiction fosters a community in which appreciation, encouragement, and feedback are readily available for both new and established writers. Tens of thousands of people write fic, and their stories are usually read within a few days of their appearance online; the most popular stories can attract hundreds of thousands of readers. Indeed, fan fiction is at once so vast and so specialized that it can be daunting and difficult for scholars to navigate it. In that sense, fan fiction’s diversity is reflective of current mass-media production practices in serving niche audiences who are looking for (and finding) content that serves their particular interests.
Fic provides an invaluable and remarkably thorough survey of both the macro and micro aspects of fan fiction, an accomplishment due in large part to the organization of the book, which reflects the collective nature of this world. Jamison describes her role in the book as giving “a tour through a curated exhibit.”5 She provides structure and writes introductory material to various sections, but she gives almost half of the book over to essays by experts in their particular areas. She includes essays by, for example, fan fiction scholars such as Kristina Busse and Francesca Coppa, leading figures in the development of fan fiction since the 1960s such as Jacqueline Lichtenberg, influential fan fiction writers such as Jen Zern (“Nautibitz”), organizers of fan fiction websites and charity drives, and those writers who have worked in both the commercial publishing and the fan worlds. These collaborators greatly enrich the book by offering their knowledge of fan fiction’s history and key developments in its content, form, and community since the 1960s. Together, these writers offer a fan fiction primer that brings together a great deal of material in a largely accessible way for non–fic readers. Fic identifies the form’s aesthetic structures (including major genres, tropes, and terms), provides a detailed history of its evolution, addresses tensions within the community, and examines the increasingly blurred lines between the worlds of fic and commercial publishing.
Fic is also a helpful chronology of the development of the fan fiction world in relation to changing technologies, industrial practices, and social mores. Jamison and her collaborators demonstrate how fan fiction writers have not only exploited every new technology to produce and distribute fan works but have also been leaders in the...